Aaron Lewis of Staind, David Ellefson of Megadeth, and Filmmaker Fran Strine Talk "Shame on America"
Thu, 31 May 2012 08:44:27
"In Shame on America, it's important for us to establish that PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] isn't something new," explains Staind singer Aaron Lewis.
Unfortunately, this horrible condition isn't some modern 21st century ailment, and it brutally afflicts thousands of our soldiers returning from service in the Middle East. These brave men and women come home suffering, and the proper treatment doesn't exist.
However, Lewis is standing up and saying something in the new documentary, Shame on America, which he's co-producing. Directed by music video director and photographer Fran Strine and narrated by Megadeth bassist David Ellefson, the film will interview vets beset with PTSD and raise awareness of the affliction, pushing for proper treatment so that these incredible individuals who serve our country get the respect and care they deserve.
Right now, Strine and Lewis are raising money for the documentary on Kickstarter. You can pledge here and get some absolutely awesome prizes in return including everything from executive producer credit to signed Staind guitars to dinner with Lewis and Strine.
Staind singer Aaron Lewis, Megadeth bassist David Ellefson, and Fran Strine sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino for this exclusive interview about the film, PTSD, and so much more.
Pledge to the film here!
Watch the trailer
What was the initial inspiration for Shame on America? When was the exact starting point?
Fran Strine: The exact starting point was after I left the studio with Staind. We did the "Making of Staind Documentary". I'd been kicking around the idea of doing a non-music documentary for a couple of years. I just didn't know what subject I wanted to cover. I recently moved to the Bay Area. Every time I'd go to the city, I'd see all of these young vets tore up. There were literally hundreds of them. I started doing some research and talking to the guys, and about 100 percent of them across the board were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. That's when I knew I wanted to do this film. I came out here on the road with Staind, and I talked to Aaron about it. Immediately, he was one-hundred percent behind it. Aaron's always been a patriot. He doesn't simply stand in front of the flag and use it as a prop. He's constantly out there talking to the vets and doing special things for them. He jumped right aboard. It's been insane. It came together extremely quickly. In the trailer, I interviewed this incredible vet we met named Jeff McMillan. He came to one of the meet-n-greets. I talked to him in the dressing room for a bit, and his story was incredible.
Aaron Lewis: I try to do as much as I can. It's not for me. It's not for the press. It's for the vets.
David Ellefson: Fran is a long-time friend, and he reached out to me to narrate the film. As soon as he told me about the concept I said, "I'm in!" I took some voiceover coaching in 2002 because people always tell me I have a great radio voice. What I found through the coaching is that documentary narrative type work is really what I do best. That’s why when Fran asked me to do it.
How does PTSD happen and what does it involve?
Fran Strine: These guys see things human beings aren't supposed to see during these combat missions. They do four, five, or six tours, and they're constantly being fired at and seeing bodies blown apart. This isn't going to be a fluff piece. It's going to show some gruesome, grueling stuff. I actually had a veteran bring some footage to me, and I just lost it. You can't imagine what these guys are seeing. For them to be thrown back into the public and expected to be completely normal parts of society immediately is asinine. Seeing that stuff triggers extreme anxiety. That's pretty much what PTSD is. It's an anxiety disorder and mental illness. There aren't enough resources for these guys. There's a backlog of almost a million veterans waiting to be seen. They go back to their families, and their families don't know who these people are anymore. They get divorced. They can't keep a job. There's a stigma tied to it. Some of them wind up homeless. It's really bad when you see these guys sleeping in cardboard boxes or on church steps.
Aaron Lewis: The Soldier On facilities all over the country are full and under-funded. They're like homeless shelters for Vets.
David Ellefson: I know some people who suffered from it but because I have not experienced it myself it is difficult to describe. I guess the simplest concept is that certain things can trigger the deep emotional feelings from a past tragedy. In this case, the horrors of war are relived in the victim’s mind and emotional state. One of my best friends growing up served in the Gulf War. He was stationed a ship and didn’t have any face-to-face combat. My father in-law is a former Marine who served in the Korean war and lost his hearing as a result.
It seems like the vets open right up to you guys.
Aaron Lewis: It's perfectly par for the course that you really didn't know what PTSD is all about. It's at epidemic proportions. It's not something new, but there was never a clinical term for it. It was probably worse in wars before. Think about World War II. These guys were right in each other's faces. In a war situation, it's not a crazy thing for someone's head to come apart right next to you or to see the guy who was right next to you two seconds ago blown into a thousand pieces because he stepped on a landmine. There's just now a technical term for the psychological trauma these soldiers have been through in every war that's taken place. The majority of our grandparents who fought in WWII came home and were complete alcoholics for the rest of their lives trying to escape from the PTSD they had which had no clinical definition yet. It's not this new thing people have come up. It's a true issue. If anybody knows a Vietnam vet, they don't want to talk about any of it. You can see it in their face and in their eyes when they start talking. It's something every generation of Americans who have fought in wars have suffered from. In Vietnam, they'd watch hundreds of soldiers die taking a particular hill. It's like that movie Hamburger Hill. That was based on true happenings. They'd take a hill, lose all these lives, and leave it so it could be reoccupied again. Day in and day out, they have to do things that don't make any sense. They aren't normal. Taking a life or watching a life be taken aren't everyday occurrences that your brain is programmed to handle and deal with. So you get things like PTSD. It's not a combat thing though. Women who get raped have suffered from PTSD afterwards. Mothers who have children suddenly die will suffer from PTSD. It's not just combat-oriented. It's post-trauma. Any brutal traumatic experience someone endures and lives through can very well leave them with PTSD. The more brutal and traumatic, the worse the condition can be.
David Ellefson: I think having real medical and therapeutic aid available is key. Those with PTSD are at a great disadvantage because they often can’t hold jobs to afford them health care. This brings up the issue of our current health care in the USA and how it has really become big business and raises costs to a point where many people simply can’t afford good health care. At the end of the day, no American citizen should suffer and be denied health care, especially if it really is “We the people…”
When you meet someone like Jeff McMillan in the trailer, what's the instant reaction?
Fran Strine: I coordinate the band's meet-n-greets, and he was in line one day. He was wearing a vest that had a little medal on it. I reached out to shake his hand and thank him for his service. He immediately broke down in tears at the thought of me thanking him and he was so excited to meet Aaron.
Aaron Lewis: It got to him in the meet-n-greet, and it was crazy. It was intense, moving, and heartwarming all at once. He went on over 200 combat missions in the tank he was in and so did I. Staind played in that tank on every single mission that they went on. That man gave everything to this country. What he's been through and the time he served his country took everything from him. It's like that for the majority of soldiers that come back who have actually been deep in the shit—any of those front line guys.
Fran Strine: We're going to explore three things. I'm going to go out, get dirty with these guys, hear their stories, and bring them the attention they deserve. Then, I'm going to find out why it's happening talking to politicians and the VA [Veteran Affairs]. The third thing is I'm going to try and find out what we can do to change it. We have to find a way to put an end to this, because it's no way for them to live after what they've done for us.
Aaron Lewis: It's really disheartening, disappointing, and enraging that our country chooses to take care of people who, a lot of times, aren't willing to take care of themselves. We provide them with everything and leave our military, who have made the ultimate sacrifice, to come back from war and fend for themselves. That really bothers me.
What do you want the audience to walk away from this feeling, thinking, or knowing?
Aaron Lewis: Fucking outrage… at the end of this I want people to be completely beside themselves that our soldiers after fighting for our freedoms are coming home and being barely treated like citizens.
Fran Strine: Don't take this country for granted. We've got it easy. The message needs to be shown like Aaron said.
David Ellefson: I know we need military to defend our country but seeing that there are real people putting their lives on the line is something that we can never take for granted. I think this film will really bring that point home.
Aaron Lewis: This is a serious documentary that's going to make people mad and make them cry. At the end of it, they're going to be like, "What the fuck?"
First Blood actually gave an interesting commentary on PTSD.
Aaron Lewis: There you go. His character as it was portrayed had all of the signs and characteristics of PTSD. I was talking to a soldier over there who was getting ready to do his tenth tour. He was a younger kid. He couldn't have been much that older than thirty. Over the years, soldiers have suffered brutally from this.
Fran Strine: I'm going after politicians as well. I want to find out who's cutting the budgets for these VA's and mental illness checks, and we're going to call them out. If they snub us, it will be known.
Why did it take so long for someone to make a documentary like this? Are the doctors working on this?
David Ellefson: I’m not sure but I’m glad the story is being told. There have been TV shows about life after the war but this one is going to be a real life view from the streets and testimonials from the victims and how their lives are after being subjected to the horror of PTSD.
Fran Strine: From what I hear talking to veterans' families and mothers, they're just medicating the shit out of these kids and killing them. There are centers for PTSD. The biggest is actually in San Francisco. We'll be exploring that too.
Aaron Lewis: We're not made to be completely bulletproof. These guys need to be properly treated and respected.
Will you be pledging?
Pledge to the film here!